11β-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1) is a potential target for the treatment of numerous human disorders, such as diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. In this work, molecular modeling studies combining molecular docking, 3D-QSAR, MESP, MD simulations and free energy calculations were performed on pyridine amides and 1,2,4-triazolopyridines as 11β-HSD1 inhibitors to explore structure-activity relationships and structural requirement for the inhibitory activity. 3D-QSAR models, including CoMFA and CoMSIA, were developed from the conformations obtained by docking strategy. The derived pharmacophoric features were further supported by MESP and Mulliken charge analyses using density functional theory. In addition, MD simulations and free energy calculations were employed to determine the detailed binding process and to compare the binding modes of inhibitors with different bioactivities. The binding free energies calculated by MM/PBSA showed a good correlation with the experimental biological activities. Free energy analyses and per-residue energy decomposition indicated the van der Waals interaction would be the major driving force for the interactions between an inhibitor and 11β-HSD1. These unified results may provide that hydrogen bond interactions with Ser170 and Tyr183 are favorable for enhancing activity. Thr124, Ser170, Tyr177, Tyr183, Val227, and Val231 are the key amino acid residues in the binding pocket. The obtained results are expected to be valuable for the rational design of novel potent 11β-HSD1 inhibitors.
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